For a few years I lived in a little town in country Victoria – a smattering of houses with one shop, one pub, two churches and a school. My next door neighbour, a paddock away, was known as Doc. Doc was heavily tattoed and studded, with a straggly grey white beard and hair to match. Chained to the veranda of the old shop where he lived was a gleaming monster of a motor bike. At irregular intervals lots of other elderly bikies would descend on Docs for a weekend of partying.
But it was Doc, a “blow-in” like me, not the church-going locals, who gave me his phone number with instructions to call “whenever you need help, day or night”. Once he helped rescue a bird that had become trapped behind my piano. I was all for sweeping it out but he rebuked me and eased the piano away from the wall to lift the bird, oh so gently, into his rough looking hands.
All kinds of assumptions are made about people who are different, who don’t conform to whatever is perceived as ‘the norm’. We do it almost automatically – or at least I do, making snap judgments about total strangers based solely on looks, age, speech, religion, clothes, the way they discipline or don’t discipline their children, – the list is endless. Mostly we surround ourselves with like-minded others and so we never get to recognise the giftedness of those outside our closed little world. Doc, with his shady background and scary looking mates, was way outside my comfort zone but his actions enabled me to see through the exterior to the gentle man hidden within.
As far back as primary school we make judgments on who fits in and who doesn’t, labelling things and people as right or wrong, good or bad, worthy or unworthy. As Australians we give assent to the belief that everybody deserves a fair go but then we sit back and do nothing when the government, in our name, discriminates harshly against those they find unworthy to live in freedom along with the rest of us.
And it’s not only politicians and individuals who by their actions discriminate against those they hold to be unsettling. We are hearing now how many times the Church made judgments about who was to be trusted and respected. It was the abusing clergy who were supported, never the children and later adults who had asked for healing for a plundered childhood.
We all remember the story Jesus told of the Samaritan who stepped in to help the traveler who had been mugged. Maybe he helped because he knew what it was like to be marginalized, powerless, passed over, seen as unworthy. It’s only when we have had a similar experience in our own life and felt the pain and unfairness of it for ourselves that we seem to be able to reach out in healing and understanding to another. I believe that Doc knew what that was like.